On the last day of 2009, I picked up something in a store, proffering my credit card for payment. After a moment with the machine, the cashier said, “It’s declined.”
Huh? I’d used it the day before, and there’s no reason anything should have happened since then. She tried again, with the same result.
When I got home, I logged into the account online, and there was a message for me to call the fraud department, which I did. The very pleasant and personable service representative checked for me and saw the transaction I’d just attempted. “It was also declined yesterday,” he said, “when you tried to buy gas in Freeport. But it worked when you used it at WalMart.” Ah.
No, I told him, I hadn’t been to Freeport (maybe an hour and a half from here, on Long Island), yesterday nor any other day. And I hadn’t been to WalMart recently, either.
He closed my account and opened a new one, and said that, unfortunately, it would be longer than usual before I got a replacement card, because of the new year holiday. It was Thursday, but the new card wouldn’t be mailed until Monday.
When I checked the account online again on Tuesday, I found six charges — including the one at WalMart — that were fraudulent, all at stores in Massapequa, near Freeport. The charges had been made with a card (the service rep had surmised that “they” had made a bogus card with my account number on it), and were all between $100 and $200, presumably large enough to be worthwhile, but small enough not to immediately arouse suspicion. I have no idea how the bank caught it between those six purchases and the gas station, but they did.
The new card would, I was told, come with an affidavit sheet, on which I could list any fraudulent transactions that appear on my account, and the bank would take care of it. And, indeed, this won’t cost me anything except the inconvenience of chancing my account number (making sure that automatic purchases are changed over, and so on), and the bank will just write off the $1000 loss as a cost of doing business. It’s small change, compared with what some crooks get away with.
And, yet, it leaves me angry. The people who did it will never be caught, and they’ve just gotten away with stealing almost $1000 worth of goods. The fact that they used my account number to do that makes it sit very close to home. There wasn’t any way I could have prevented it — the account number could have been recorded a couple of days earlier, or perhaps it was months ago, and was only now being used.
There’s huge money in stolen credit-card account numbers. Most are collected and used electronically, worldwide. This is a smaller-scale operation, done locally and using real, physical cards.
It’s just irritating to be reminded how many people are out there who are prepared to steal whatever they can get their hands on.